Flood fears as Yellow River freezes over

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am

Temperatures continued to plunge across much of the mainland yesterday, heightening the risk of mass flooding with the eventual thaw.

The Yellow River was frozen over more than 900 kilometres of its length, prompting water authorities in several provinces to bring forward plans to counter the annual spring deluge.

From Gansu province in the west to its mouth in Shandong province, great stretches of the river had frozen solid, with ice reportedly up to 25cm thick in places.

The Yellow River Conservancy Commission, under the Ministry of Water Resources, said yesterday the build-up of ice on the river had become a 'serious' concern for flooding and issued a directive for local departments to closely monitor the situation.

Authorities are already dismantling some 50 pontoon bridges across the river as a precautionary measure.

The commission said the river was completely frozen in 17 areas totalling 902.6 kilometres on Wednesday morning.

The ice was holding back the flow of the river, increasing the likelihood of flooding in the event of a sudden increase in temperature.

However, there were no signs of the cold snap giving out just yet.

The China Meteorological Administration predicted temperatures across most of the country will drop by a further 6 to 8 degrees Celsius, with the northeast and the border between Qinghai and Sichuan experiencing a fall of more than 10 degrees. The mercury was not expected to rise significantly until after the weekend.

Beijing and the north of the country were bracing for the new year's second wave of snow due to arrive today, with the state meteorologists predicting temperatures in the capital would drop to minus 12 degrees last night.

However, the administration said only light snow showers were expected and it was unlikely there would be a repeat of the record snowfall that crippled the capital's transport system at the weekend.

Heavier snowfalls were predicted in the north of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region . The area, which had already recorded snowfalls of up to 63cm since late last month, could see as much as 10cm of fresh snowfall today, the weather bureau said.

The continued cold weather will likely put further strains on a transport system already reeling from the chaos at the beginning of the week.

It is also stretching the electricity grid close to capacity in the eastern and central parts of the mainland.

Snow and sleet were predicted to continue affecting areas as far south as Hunan province today. Daytime temperatures had been hovering around freezing throughout much of the region for the past few days.

Authorities in Shandong issued a blanket power-rationing order to industries to prevent an overload of the system, with a number of cities in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces issuing similar orders, state media reported.

Shanghai Electric Power told the Shanghai Daily it had 'just enough' to meet the city's peak demand of 19.32GW on Wednesday morning - the second highest surge in demand on record - but only by relying on an import of 4.6GW from neighbouring provinces.

The supplier said there was no guarantee that the economic powerhouse would not experience shortages if the cold spell continued.

Part of the problem stems from a lack of central heating - homes north of the Yangtze River are usually fitted with heating, but residents of cities south of the river have to rely on power-greedy appliances.

The situation has been exacerbated by reportedly low coal stocks at power plants in a number of provinces and problems with the supply chain, leading to fears of a shortage.

The mainland was not alone in facing unusually bitter winter conditions - record low temperatures and high snowfall were being reported across the northern hemisphere.

In Poland, 122 people died in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees, while in central Norway the mercury dropped to minus 41 degrees, the BBC reported.

In Britain, a record temperature of minus 18 degrees was recorded for Manchester on Wednesday night. Further north, thousands of livestock were reportedly freezing to death in Scottish fields as the country faced its worst conditions since 1963.

Across the Atlantic, the US was expecting up to 20cm of snow in areas as far south as Kentucky and Tennessee, with record sub-zero temperatures already threatening crops in Florida. The state's governor had issued an emergency order lifting weight restrictions on trucks to allow farmers to take in early harvests in an attempt to salvage some of their income, CNN reported.

Mercury falling

A further drop of 6 to 8 degrees Celsius was expected for most areas

The fall, in degrees Celsius, in the northeast and the border between Qinghai and Sichuan was forecast at: 10